Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) (AP)
(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Steve Russell (R- Okla.) released the sixth installment of his ongoing Waste Watch series on Monday, showing 10 instances of government waste totaling around $139 billion in taxpayer money.
Some of the spending items detailed in the report include a Pentagon Task Force that spent $150 million on lavish, rented villas in Afghanistan with flat-screen TVs in each room; $356 million on a computer system that does not work; $34 million spent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to introduce Afghans to soybeans; and $47,530 on “elegant” bicycle shelters for the National Institutes of Health.
The Waste Watch Christmas Edition states that in Fiscal Year 2015 the federal government made “approximately $137 billion in improper payments,” which were spread throughout various departments and programs. It also listed several other wasteful projects totaling about $2 billion, for the total of $139 billion.
“Overall the error rate for 2015 was reported to be 4.39 percent,” the report explains. “[A] 4% error rate may seem relatively insignificant, given the amount of payments that are made by our federal government on an annual basis, [but] it adds up to billions of taxpayer dollars misspent and wasted every year.”
According to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) percentage breakdown of the root-causes of the improper payments for FY 2015, “33 percent of the improper payments were made with insufficient documentation to determine the accuracy of payment.
“An example of this is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) paying for a foot surgery for an individual despite not having their medical history.”
Russell’s Waste Watch also highlighted $150 million spent by the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) which, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), “on rented ‘villas’ for their staff in Afghanistan.”
“TFBSO spent 20 percent of their budget on these villas,” the report notes, “which were required to be furnished with queen-size beds, flat-screen TVs for each room, DVD players and mini-refrigerators. These villas featured upgraded furniture and western-style hotel accommodations.”
The rationale behind the task force living off U.S. military bases “was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.” However, the task force spent $57 million from 2010 to 2014 on security contractors who provided “combat-lifesaver-qualified personnel for all security movements” and “20 security teams to support operations in all areas of Afghanistan and secure movement of Task Force Staff, senior businessmen and guests.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda spent $47,530 on bike shelters “to keep bicycles from being parked on hand rails near the entrance of one of their buildings.”
(Image from Modern Design & Site Furnishings.)
The report also notes that “the cost of these bicycle shelters is concerning because it is more than four times the cost of traditional bus stops, which are estimated to cost between $10,000 and $12,000. What’s more, the bicycle shelters cost more than solar power bus shelters, which are about $14,500.”
Modern Design and Site Furnishings, the company building the bicycle shelters, said in defense of the cost, “Bicycles are no longer just the exclusive transportation of the poor—and design should react to this truth. This elegant bike shelter has an uncompromisingly dynamic shape combining a robust frame and delicate glass which are supported by sturdy stainless steel brackets.’” http://www.mdsfco.com/products#!bicycle-shelters/edge
In 2010, the USDA established the “Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative (SARAI)” to “improve the local nutrition and economy for Afghans by making soy a dietary staple.”
As part of this effort, “[m]ore than 467 million seeds were delivered to 5,000 subsistence farmers, and a $1.5 million Afghan soy factory was constructed to process the crop. Food technologists were even hired to teach families how to cook with soybean products.”
However the American Soybean Association (ASA) “spent tens of millions of dollars without conducting a single feasibility or value-chain study” and “program administrators later admitted that Afghans don’t like the taste of soybean flour, and there’s virtually no demand for soybean products,” states the report.
“SARAI was also carried out despite scientific research revealing that Afghanistan’s weather patterns are inappropriate for growing soybeans,” reads the report.
“Unsurprisingly,” says Waste Watch, “the first crop failed entirely and subsequent crops were too meager to fill the factory. Thousands of discouraged farmers left their fields, and the new factory has since been used to process 4,000 metric tons of imported American soybeans, costing an additional $2 million.”
The USDA stopped funding the initiative after three years and spending $34.4 million.
Rep. Russell commented at the report’s release, “It never ceases to amaze me the amount of waste the federal government produces. A lot of these instances could have been prevented with some common sense, and I hope that we can continue to change the culture.”